CORNWALL, PEI, Jun 1, 2014/ Troy Media/ – When it comes to access to abortion, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and the country’s longest serving Liberal premier are far from being on the same page.
Truth be told, they are not even reading from the same book. Trudeau has come under fire for an edict that all new Liberal candidates must be prepared to vote pro-choice, should they be successful at the polls, if the issue ever comes to a vote during their time in Parliament. The prime ministerial hopeful defends his decision by saying the Supreme Court has ruled abortion legal and consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That ruling, representing a long legal fight by the late Henry Morgentaler, has long been a thorn in the side of PEI premiers of both Liberal and Conservative stripes. The “Gentle Island”, as we call ourselves in the tourism commercials, tends to be small “c’ conservative, especially when it comes to social issues.
When they can, Island politicians like to ignore the issue. Right now, Premier Robert Ghiz doesn’t have that luxury. Ghiz, who took over the mantle of “dean of Canadian premiers” when Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty stepped down, sees no problem with the “status quo” on PEI when it comes to abortion.
The policy, developed shortly after Morgentaler’s legal victory, and which has been upheld by both Liberal and Conservative governments, goes something like this: No Island hospitals perform abortions.
There is nothing legally stopping them, of course – the standard line has always been no doctor has ever asked for permission. The province will pay for abortions performed out-of province but only with a referral from an Island doctor. To be covered, the operation must be performed in a hospital rather than a private clinic. Provincial government figures indicate approximately 150 women a year receive the procedure outside PEI.
At periodic intervals, some pro-choice groups make a call for in-province access and the Island’s “right to life” group holds an annual “march for life” through the streets of Charlottetown. To the pro-choice lobby, the government of the day always says something like “there is just nobody here willing to perform the operation – that’s the big stumbling block.”
Now that bluff has been called and the abortion applecart is in danger of being upset. Dr. Robyn MacQuarrie, who practices in Halifax, has offered to come to PEI twice a month to perform abortions at the Island’s largest hospital. She has formally asked Health PEI for permission.
The government agency certainly took her application seriously. They established a Provincial Medical Advisory Committee, composed of medical professionals, that recommended the proposal go ahead. Apparently they weren’t buying into the unwritten agreement that has insured no abortions have ever being performed here.
With his cover blown, the premier had no choice but to be frank. The government, he said, didn’t want to make any changes. Now the National Abortion Federation is threatening to go to court to mount a challenge to the Island government under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If that happens, the province would likely argue there are plenty of medical procedures not available in PEI. With a population of just over 140,000, the reality is the health system simply cannot afford to offer everything. However, the fact a group of medical professionals reviewed Dr. MacQuarrie’s proposal and approved it would most certainly hurt that argument.
So would comments from Dr. Richard Wedge in a television interview back in 2011. He told CBC “The Supreme Court has said that access to legal abortions is a medically necessary service. So you can’t legislate against it, because the Supreme Court would just strike it down . . . If someone has the skills to provide a medically-necessary service, then what basis would you have to deny it?”
So who is Dr. Wedge? He is the chief executive officer of Health PEI so if the matter went to court, it is likely he would find his own words helping to build a case for the other side.
A life-long resident of Prince Edward Island, Troy Media Syndicated Columnist Andy Walker has been a writer and commentator for over 30 years.
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